Cameroon: Hedwig Vinyou

They are my brothers and they love me. All of them feel that I am one of them and they even call me 'the chief of prisoners'. Indeed - I am one of them.

— Hedwig Vinyou

Sister Hedwig Vinyou was born in 1955, in Mbiim Djottin, North-Western Province of Cameroon. From 1962 to 1968, she attended St. Peter's School, Mbiim. In 1973, she entered the Franciscan Congregation, committing her life to religion and service. She now lives in Bamenda, West of Cameroon, and has worked for many years among prisoners and fought for their rights. Since 1998, she has decongested the Bamenda Central Prison by negotiating and obtained the release of some 2000 prisoners who, for a long time, had been awaiting trial for minor offences.

Undeterred by limited resources, Sister Hedwig is spurred on by her dedication, love and determination. Consequently, the Bamenda Central Prison now has probably the best general sanitation system in the country. She concentrates on the improvement of conditions in the prison, especially in health and sanitation. She also brings the prisoners medicine and extra food, disinfects the rooms and fights for their cases to be heard. She also tries to temper the natural brutality of the guards. Although she has committed her life to her religion, her care and sympathy has erased religious and tribal borders. Sister Hedwig goes to the prison as a Catholic but treats all the inmates like her brothers. She provides all the necessary materials and assistance for everyone to worship in their own religion. "I don't go there to convert; I go there to show my sympathy, for each prisoner to feel that out there, there is somebody who does not judge them, who cares about them." She has a vision of a peaceful future if, in spite of poverty, people are able to raise awareness and promote cooperation. Sister Hedwig underwent extensive professional training between 1977 and 1994 in social development, teaching, scripture and life, and counseling. Since 1975 she has worked as a pastoral and social worker. She has successfully worked for the improvement of prison conditions at the Bamenda Central Prison. She coordinated renovation of the Bamenda Central Prison, giving the best general sanitation system in Cameroon. She systematically decongested the prison by negotiating the release of more then 2000 inmates, who had been forgotten as they awaited trial for minor offences. As a result, the procedure to grant bail while awaiting trial has been relaxed in the Bamenda Central Prison.

Action by Christians for the Abolition of Torture (ACAT)